What went right: CU outrebounded UIC 36-28 and posted a 16-2 advantage on second-chance points. The Buffs also turned 24 turnovers by the Flames into 20 points.
What went wrong: The Buffs struggled to stop the rim-attacking offense of UIC, which finished with a .566 shooting percentage.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. The sophomore guard saved the Buffs at crunch time by scoring CU's final 10 points. He finished with 21 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals.
What's next: The Buffs will not play at home again until Jan. 10 and travel to New Mexico for a Tuesday night showdown (7 p.m. MT, ESPN2).
The Colorado men's basketball team will be more than happy to take the win, and the high-scoring offense certainly remains an encouraging strength for a club whose schedule soon will take a more demanding turn.
Still, head coach Tad Boyle knows his defense needs to improve. And fast.
It was a hot-shooting performance for both the Buffaloes and the visiting Illinois-Chicago Flames, yet it took a gutsy effort in the final minutes by sophomore point guard McKinley Wright for CU to put out those flames, as the Buffs escaped with an 84-72 victory in the season's final nonconference home game Saturday afternoon at the CU Events Center.
Until last week's home win against Colorado State, the Buffs had lost nine consecutive games in which the opposition shot better than 50 percent. It now has occurred in two of the past three games, as UIC finished with a .566 mark (30-for-53) from the floor.
"We have to shrink the floor better. Our help side was not good," Boyle said. "We switched ball screens, and early in the game I think the first five baskets they got was basically their guards taking our bigs to the rim. Our bigs we knew were going to be challenged guarding the ball. We worked on it in practice. Didn't do it very well. Those are areas we can improve upon."
The Buffs led throughout the contest but were unable to ever truly shake the Flames, who remained within four points when Godwin Boahen knocked down a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 17 seconds remaining. But Wright abruptly donned his Superman cape and took over from there.
CU outscored UIC 10-2 the rest of the way, with Wright accounting for all of those points. He began the run with a pair of free throws followed by a pull-up jumper in the lane. After Wright drew a charging foul at the defensive end of the floor, he converted a driving layup and knocked down two more free throws to give the Buffs a 12-point edge with 40.7 seconds remaining.
Wright finished 8-for-8 at the free throw line and led the Buffs with 21 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals.
"My teammates just do a good job of helping me create shots for myself," Wright said. "Without those guys, I wouldn't be able to do that. I don't think it's something I think about personally. I just think these guys do a good job of getting me going and talking me up."
The UIC tandem of Marcus Ottey (10-for-15, 22 points) and Jordan Blount (9-for-12, 20 points) combined to go 19-for-27 from the floor, with Ottey able to attack the rim at will throughout the entire 40 minutes. While the Buffs' one-on-one defense lagged, they did force 24 turnovers, the most by a CU opponent this year, and they were able to counter the Flames' rim-attacking offense by drawing six charging fouls.
CU won the game at the free throw line, going 25-for-33 against just 10 free throw attempts for UIC. The Buffs also enjoyed a 16-2 advantage on second-chance points and turned those 24 UIC turnovers into 20 points.
"It was a tough, hard-fought win against a really talented Illinois-Chicago team. Those guys are tough," Boyle said. "That Blount kid, he came off a career-high (27 points) and he was terrific again tonight. Their guards can really score. Defensively, I thought we were OK. Not great. We've got a lot of room for improvement after a game like this. But we did what we had to do to win the game."
COLORADO 84, ILL.-CHICAGO 72
Washington 0-1 1-2 1, Blount 9-12 2-2 20, Ferguson 1-8 0-1 3, Ottey 10-15 1-3 22, Boahen 6-12 0-0 15, Diggins 2-2 2-2 6, Howard 2-2 0-0 5, Wiley 0-1 0-0 0, Ahale 0-0 0-0 0, Bissainthe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-53 6-10 72.
Siewert 3-5 2-2 8, M.Wright 6-15 8-8 21, Gatling 3-8 6-8 12, Bey 6-9 2-4 15, Schwartz 4-8 2-3 12, Strating 0-0 0-0 0, Battey 2-6 3-4 7, N.Wright 1-4 0-0 3, Brown 1-3 2-4 4, Kountz 1-2 0-0 2, Parquet 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-60 25-33 84.
Halftime — Colorado 34-29. 3-point goals — Ill.-Chicago 6-16 (Boahen 3-8, Ottey 1-1, Howard 1-1, Ferguson 1-6), Colorado 5-19 (Schwartz 2-4, N.Wright 1-1, Bey 1-3, M.Wright 1-5, Siewert 0-1, Battey 0-1, Brown 0-1, Gatling 0-3). Fouled out — Boahen, Wiley. Rebounds — Ill.-Chicago 24 (Diggins 7), Colorado 33 (Bey 15). Assists — Ill.-Chicago 6 (Ferguson, Blount 2), Colorado 13 (M.Wright 9). Total fouls — Ill.-Chicago 28, Colorado 17. A — 7,277.